Watch Me Entertain Myself!

Sacha Guitry once said, "You can pretend to be serious, but you can't pretend to be witty." Oh yes, I'm the great pretender.
(pilot episode: 20 January 2004)

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Revealing Med

Last night I was highly judgmental.

Monday I got a text message from Eugene. His fellow med students in UST were holding Medisine, a short film competition. One of their judges backed out; could I step in? So last night I found myself together with two doctors and a music video director watching seven short movies in competition.

The theme was “Med Revealed”. For some reason the organizers decided to put an intermission after the first four entries. The last three entries, I thought, were also the strongest of the lot: Snel’s Anatomy, Pacencia and Medskool Bukol were all well-made, with a degree of polish that was pleasantly surprising. As I told the organizers when I met them before the start of the event, “You guys aren’t supposed to be doing this, and yet you are.” Either their professors aren’t giving them enough work to do, or they really love what they’re not supposed to be doing.

Pacencia was visually the most polished; no surprise that it took home best cinematography. The editing though could stand some sharper snipping here and there. And I do have a problem with the narrative flow in the end: the lead character gets stabbed, but in the next scene he is shown to have survived the attack, and his assailant lands in jail. The leap from attack to jail is a huge one, inviting questions from the viewer: What happened in between? How did he survive the attack? How did he get his assailant behind bars?

Medskool Bukol is a love story-musical about a girl who couldn’t choose between the best-friend-who-was-always-by-her-side and the hunk-she-admired-from-afar. It pulls off a neat hat trick, neatly stringing together several 70s OPM songs into a fairly coherent narrative (which I thought held together much better than the songs of Mamma Mia!, but then again this student production had less than one-fifth of the Abba oeuvre) that did not take itself too seriously, thus it entertained more than it could irritate (and believe me, with a plot premise and a playlist like that, it could easily teeter off into bad camp territory). Thankfully it stayed within the side of campy fun; it also helped that the audience was a most friendly one. Still, props for the smart, consistent choice of songs—as I exclaimed in surprise right after viewing, “70s OPM? You guys weren’t even born yet!”

I actually gave Snel’s Anatomy a perfect score of 100. (A disclosure: I gave pretty generous scores to all seven; I don’t think I gave a score less than 90.) Acting was spot-on hilarious (sure it’s caricature, but purposefully so). The script is also the wittiest of the lot; the title alone is a play on a character’s mispronunciation of the word “snail” and the author of an anatomy book (Richard Snell). The movie lovingly and inventively makes fun of a clerk’s miserable existence while showing us non-med students a glimpse of med life.

And that’s what I think a lot of those student online voters do not realize. In the judges’ score sheets, 30% goes to how the theme is shown; that’s quite a huge chunk. Medskool Bukol and Pacencia are movies set in med school; change the setting to, say, law school, and their plots can still work. Intrinsic in Snel’s Anatomy is the question: Why stay in med school, given all the hardship one has to endure? That the movie successfully shows the question and deftly answers it in an effectively touching (but not mawkish) resolution is a testament to writer-director Manny Espaldon’s talents—maybe he should ask himself why stay in med school when he could be making indie films or slaving in television.

* * * * *

Because all the noise and thunder last night concentrated on the last three entries, let me take this opportunity to give props to what I felt was an overlooked gem in the contest.

We’ve Only Just Begun is actually a great example of a well-made television plug, the kind that you see ABS-CBN and GMA do all the time. It uses actual video footage and still photographs edited to a song, interspersed by text onscreen and shots of actual med students and their dreams. The short mini-docu is a wonderful example of how truth, when told well, has more impact. The copy in particular is well-written, far more poetic than most of the scripts last night. The docu is not technically flawless though, and I cringe whenever I see too many different font types and sizes (a common flaw among graphic artist beginners). But it’s just too bad that it had to compete alongside fiction movies with traditional narrative structures—it’s apples to oranges.

Still, for me it had the most powerful impact that night. The audience may have laughed louder, cheered more and clapped heartily at the other entries, but the effect of We’ve Only Just Begun is quieter and digs deeper. Perhaps for many of the med students in the audience, the message is something that they’ve heard once too often. But for an outsider like me, by the end of the video I felt like giving a standing ovation to all those med students slogging it out for several merciless years just so that they can make a difference.

Now that’s med revealed.


enegue said...

again, thanks joel for the wonderful words. next time we invite you, punta ka ulit ha :) hehe promise, the invitation would come weeks or months before the said event.

i'm glad you enjoyed the experience:) again, thank you :)

Manny Espaldon, Jr. said...

Wow, my short-film got blogged! Hehe... Salamat sa magandang review! Nalaman ko lang ang blog na 'to through my high school classmate whom i never told of my short-film entry... Bigla na lang nagtext about my short-film kasi nabasa niya from this blog...

Thank you ulit! Di talaga ako confident about that short-film until I read your blog...

"Why stay in med school rather than do indie films?" - Why not do both at the same time? I think the two profesions will complement each other... hopefully kayanin ko yun, i still have a long way to go to become a professional in both fields... :)

- Manny

Rheia said...

just wanted to say that i posted your blog of medisine at my site :)

dak said...

Hi Joel, I've been visiting your blog ever since last year... I think, and so I was actually shocked when all of a sudden I heard the host of the Medisine announced that you're one of the judges. Then I found out that Eugene (a friend and classmate) actually invited you. Cool!

So I was also there, and I agree, even if Pacensia was a classmate's entry. My bet's on Snel's Anatomy, it was edited well and the concept's very appropriate.

But then again, shots in Pacensia were all awesome.

joelmcvie said...

@MANNY: Naku, both muses are quite jealous. But if you can pull it off, why not? =) Congrats once again for a wonderful film.

@RHEIA: Actually, I think your movie came in second in my score sheets. =) Your cinematography is most impressive and your win well-deserved.

@DAK: Nagpakilala ka naman sana. =)

dak said...

Oh yeah, muntik na kaso you were busy talking with one of my doctor-professor who's also a judge that night. I was too shy to butt in e.

Owell, there's always a next time.

Anonymous said...

Hi sir! Thanks for commenting on med 1-c's "we've only just begun". I hope you don't mind my posting your review on my multiply account. Days before the contest, we had a lot of 2nd thoughts about submitting our entry but the main goal was to inspire and not to win the contest. We're just glad to hear from others on how truly inspiring the video turned out to be.. :)